Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Do you know the way to San Javier?

I woke up early (it's hard not to here) and took my morning coffee outside to browse around the orchard. It's mostly orange trees and some mangoes and something that looks like laurel surrounded by blooming bougainvillea. I'm thinking I'd like to start a kitchen herb garden. Something simple in pots like parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (seriously.) Oh, and basil.
I was daydreaming about this when I stumbled on something that looked like a chicken-wire pillow. Obviously, a trap of some kind because it had a tunneled entry. Everything here is hand-crafted so what looked like a goofy contraption was really a little work of art. The wire was carefully shaped and fastened together by weaving string along its perimeter. I called Robert out to look at it and neither of us were sure of its purpose.

Our plan today was to drive to see the mission of San Javier. It is supposedly very beautiful and, of course, historic since it was constructed in 1699 under the guidance of the Jesuits. We set out with the cameras, a couple of bananas and a large bottled water. We had no idea what lay ahead! 36 kilometers sounded like no great distance, but the road was an unpaved rocky trail more suited for burros than automobiles and it became apparent this was no cake walk. The road winds up through the Sierra la Gigantas which are so laden with gravel you wonder how they stay upright. The desert is so unfriendly and barren in areas you have to question the sanity of persons choosing to homestead here. But amazingly, further up, tropical vegetation appears. Giant palms grow in little areas like ravines where there is water. The areas are very small but still classify as oasis(es).

We guess that the mission must be in an oasis ahead. Soon we would be there. It must be on that mountain over there. Okay, maybe not this mountain but the next. Okay it's the next mountain. After travelling for close to two hours in this suspense I became impatient. Depending on open windows for cooling resulted in the inside of the Scout being thoroughly powdered with dust. Our water was now lukewarm, the bananas long gone and my hair tangled and gritty. Finally, I began complaining: "Jeeze, Why would anybody want to build anything out this far and this difficult to get to? Who were these crazy Jesuits? This is an godawful long way to come for Mass, who'd bother? Look at that drop, how many people have lost their lives just to go to church? Wait what did that sign say, did we pass the place already? With this much effort it better be a Mount Rushmore or Manchu Pichu or something as big-deal."

After a long run across a plateau we began to climb again into another mountain range. Soon we were inside of a the bowl of the range, and signs of an oasis appeared ahead. The palms were more plentiful and suddenly there was a definite water source--an emerald-colored stream, then a dam, then a masonry entrance, and finally, the stone Mission with the mountain at its back. Evidence of the old colonial world: organization. Rock walls enclosing orchards, design details in the stonework, a cobblestone avenue that ended in what architects call a "terminated vista," an impressive way to situate an important building--the San Javier Mission. We all cheered up instantly.

The way back went faster as Robert, now familiar with the road picked up some speed. Not for long--we were stopped by stray burros loitering in the road. Not much farther down we encountered Mexicans with car trouble. We were able to ascertain that the tow truck pulling the broken van had a dead battery. Jumper cables? You'd think they'd be standard on a tow truck, but no. So Robert proceeded to unhook our battery to place in the tow truck to get it started. Meanwhile, a couple other trucks pulled up behind. After a few moments a Mexican exited the first truck wielding a two foot long machete. I stood in silent suspense while he walked toward the scene. I was rapidly accessing what use a machete would have in this situation that I hadn't considered. Moments earlier it was a simple pair of pliers we were after. Suddenly he began whacking at what I think was a mesquite tree alongside our vehicles. Of course! He was clearing a way for his truck to pass. This is the wild west.

Eventually we made it home to warm showers and clean clothes. Our only remaining dilemma was what to make for dinner. This is becoming a problem. We can no longer rely on a refrigerator full of deli cuts and cheese, pickles and other quick snacks. Tomorrow we plan to put on a pot of stew and I'll make cornbread. No back-road adventures either.

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